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"Not too long ago I would be scared and running now." I stood up,

calmly put the gun in my pocket and walked away.




Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


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Where Do Dreams Come From

By Kalamu ya Salaam



Henry Jackson, Jr., BKA "Rabbit", Does What He Got To Do.

Death Dance.

Early Evening.

Some people say that there is nothing you can do and some people are afraid to do what they know needs to be done. Others don't even think about life at all, just wallow along, bearing the pains of survival as best they can and snatching, as often as they can, whatever little pleasures their life offers them.

Joyce and I were about to walk out the door of convention onto paths of our own choosing. As my hand was steady on the emotional chains of my past ready to rip them off, as I stepped firmly pass whatever fears were tugging at me like the scent of danger silently but abruptly jerking a startled deer's head out of the water, as we moved slowly toward the river of experience through which we would splash our runaway, I suddenly felt heady. I mean I felt good about what I had resolved to do.

It was not like voting and getting the wrong man in office even after the politician you voted for has won. It was not like joining a pick-up-the-gun organization only to find plenty of guns and no organization. It was not like none of that. This was like fucking, it felt good, it was real and it meant something.

"Rabbit, did you hear me? What are you thinking?"

"What am I thinking? What does it matter what I'm thinking? What I'm doing, that's what counts right now."

"What makes you think, what you feel, that determines what you do and some times the only way you can understand what someone does is to know what they think and how they feel."

"You're afraid for me or something, huh?"

Joyce looked away from me, but, at the same time, drew closer to me, holding my arm. I tried to explain, "It's like once you really decide on something and then discipline yourself to do it, then like, there's nothing anyone can do to you, ya know? All they can do is kill me now." I felt her body involuntarily stiffen, "but that's nothing cause they can't reach me."

We were near the park now, crossing the street. The dark here was deep because the lights were infrequent and there weren't many cars passing this way. A white boy was coming our way. Now was the time. Joyce saw him and turned to me, pleading with the pressure of her body.

"Rabbit, no. You don't have to. I believe in yo..."

"Joyce," I whispered, almost in a rage. Her emotions, her perceptions, her fears were not going to mess this up. "You wanted to come, remember? You wanted to see, remember? You wanted to be with me. Now remember your promise."

The white boy was closer. Joyce looked at me and started to blank out. Started to make this moment disappear if she could. Started talking nonsense. Started to cry. Started to try to convince me to stop. Shook her hands, rubbed her dark brown hair. Looked at the approaching caucasian. Looked at me. Balled her small fists. Bit her lower lip. Looked away like a frightened thrush desperately fighting to avoid the deadly hypnotism of a snake's gaze. Sniffled. Let a brief hurt whelp break from her throat. Felt her bladder full and wanted to make urine to release the tension of this confrontation. Thought about my hand under her butt when we made love, an action as sharp as this second but far less dangerous, far more pleasurable. Silently prayed for some god to understand, to save us, us who were not now in need of salvation from without because salvation was about to come from within.

I smiled. I knew that finding freedom is dangerous. Only those who conquer the restraint of the fear of dying can ever really live.

Just as the white boy was about ten feet from us she kissed me, kissed me with her whole body, her arms around my arms, her heart pounding so hard I felt it through the elastic of her brassiere, the nylon of her purple blouse, the orlon of her black sweater. She kissed as if this were the last kiss, but her eyes, shiny with a thin film of tears, were wide open looking at me.

I kept my lips closed and smiled. Absolutely nothing was going to stop me. I had tasted her love before. This was destiny.

I went for my gun but her hold was harder than I thought it ever could be. The white boy was past us now. I pulled my head back and looked at her. Sensing my resolve and the futility of opposing me, Joyce dropped her arms. I pulled the gun out.

There is nothing like being in control. No matter the reality, there is nothing like this. As I pointed the weapon at the enemy's back I was conscious of every breath I took. I could see everything: the arc of light flashing off the gun's barrel as I brought it up. The white boy's shadow stair-stepping off the curb in the vague early night moonlight. The steadiness of my hand holding this piece. A bird flying toward a tree out of my line of sight. God's eye watching me, waiting to see how much man I was. 

My brilliant uncle who had janitored all his life laughing at last from deep in his bowels without having to stifle the satisfaction, his hand covering his mouth. My mother who domestically worked and worked and worked for so many, too many, other people's families and never complaining to or around us, never told us children or even my old man about being forced in the den on the couch of one of those houses on one of those Christmas Eves. My drunken old man rolling home with empty pockets. 

I could see me up against the wall one time and this cop looking me in the eye and putting his revolver between my legs and jiggling it up and down and asking me how hot was my sister's pussy. I could see all the things that people stereotypically saw about us without seeing what such scenes mean to us, all the things kind of hard to look at when you looking at them from the inside, from the perspective of having lived it. I was a seer about to fulfill prophesy.

I even saw Joyce move in back of me, about to try and stop me. But the squeeze had already started.

"Rabbit, aw baby, Rabbit , it's alright."

I raised my free hand and swung it slowly back around me, touched Joyce and pushed her gently back. I could see a mosquito dancing around the barrel. "Joyce, don't touch me!"

I knew instantly that shooting him in the back would have been wrong. He had to know. "Hey!" I hollered. He turned. I advanced with my arm extended in front of me. Soon I was close to him. All of my steps were echoed by Joyce's just behind me. The white boy waited. I stopped. Joyce stopped. We stood there a human chain strung out along a sidewalk.

"What... what are you going to do? I don't have any money. See." He pitifully pulled his pockets inside out and had his wallet in his hand offering it to me.

I said nothing. I could hear Joyce breathing behind me. I could hear him breathing in front of me. I held my breath. He came tentatively closer, fascinated with fear, looking at my face. "I've seen you before."

Joyce came up to my side. He looked at her. He talked at her. "Is he crazy? Why me? Why you want to pick on me? You don't even know me, do you? I've never done you anything. Why me?" He was about to run but the explosion had happened half a second ago as my finger had pulled the final fraction of an inch.

The pistol had jumped this early evening as three people stood knotted on a sidewalk waiting. He had become so very pale even before the bullet shattered the bone above his left eye. I had concentrated my aim and was exhaling slowly as the blood pushed out in a great spurt. I think, as his hands flew up, his head snapped back, his balance was knocked askew and he twisted and fell, I think it was then that we all knew that this was the moment. This was everything. This was all those yesterdays that I had been thinking on that I think I don't have to think about anymore.

The shot's sound rang out. The white boy crashed to the sidewalk, crumpled and dead. "I didn't have to know you." I went to the corpse, squatted beside him. "Not too long ago I would be scared and running now." I stood up, calmly put the gun in my pocket and walked away.

Everything was louder now, I could see better. The gun felt warm in my pocket. Joyce felt warm on my arm. I smiled. Back there, after carefully exhaling, I had calmly drawn my first free breath. I felt good.


After Killing

After Making Love

Joyce Jones Sleeps Beside Rabbit And Dreams.

She Sees The Other Side Of The Slaughter

And Wakes Up Screaming.

Sweat was popping off his forehead, pouring out of his pores, but he handled the rusty machete with a deft precision, lopping the heads off with only two or three whacks, four at the most on a particularly stubborn redneck. At another station Rabbit and himself hung the white men up, slipping a noose around the left leg and pulling the lever which operated the crane that hoisted the carcasses which then moved slowly from station to station. Further down at the next station Rabbit stood with a butcher knife slitting the stomach open, cutting the testicles, halfing the penis. At another station he came pushing a big cart. He had an old hammer in his right hand, picked up a head, plunk, plunk, knocked out the eyes and tossed the heads into the cart. He had a black apron on and was splattered with blood, flying bone fragments and pieces of cadaverous flesh.

Outside on the sidewalk a dancing Rabbit tommed and shuffled, hat in hand, inviting them in. He had paint on his face to look harmless and dumb, and he had pictures of me, naked, posed in gapped leg ways, my genitals pulsing and painted red, my face always covered, white hands pasted on my breasts. Pictures of me bigger than life size, and little pictures on cards in his hand. On one I lay on my back upside down and a big white dick was coming from the top of the picture showering me, and Rabbit was dancing, barking promises of more and more to come inside for only five bucks.

Inside the first room was dark. The second room lit with church candles and fifteen Joyces dressed in white lace smocks that barely covered our waists, our behinds sticking out inviting, we stood bent over, slashing smiles at the men who sat in the pews choosing us. Rabbit was in the pulpit collecting money.

Rabbit was pimping me.

I was putting on my clothes and walking quickly away from all of that. I was driving down the street. I was running on the expressway. Fast. I wasn't hitch-hiking. I was leaving. Against the traffic. My lights were on. I didn't mind being seen. I knew where I was going. I had to leave.

You know I want a man and to be married. I want to make love, have babies. I want to cook sweet food and have music in my house. I want to be in love and share my love. But I don't need this kind of action. I can't deal with this weird shit.

Rabbit kept pushing at me with his dick in his hand, talking about being a man. Rabbit would hit me when I didn't cry about our conditions, when I wasn't ashamed or something, when I didn't act weak nor innocent. He busted what he thought was my virginity and laughed every chance he could. His eyes turned blue.

I didn't want to kill nobody just cause of what done happened. I wanted to love someone, to be able to live.

He'd be throwing his money at me, money from the slaughterhouse, ten dollar bills, twenties, fifties, loudly floating downward toward my feet cause I wouldn't grab at that. I'd just let it drop.

He pushed me out his bed. A thousand white men were standing on the spread. There was no more sunlight in our house. And he wouldn't mop up or nothing.

"So what that prove, man?" Now he was fucking me. Now he was kicking the shit out of one of them thousand white men. And every time he would shoot one, another one would laugh. Another one would rise up. And he was fucking me, he was hurting me. "Rabbit, what's happening? This shit isn't real. We real. What about us?"

One of our children came running into the room. Rabbit hit the child and told it to shut up. Everybody had a gun now. So what?

"What killing a white man gon prove? Anybody can kill. What that gon win us? The past is gone."

"The past is here," he snarled.

I could see myself visiting him in jail for the rest of my days. My youth gone. After you cook for them and sleep with them, what is left? They don't listen to nothing you say. They treat you like a woman. I wasn't crying anymore.

My mother was slowly rocking in a chair in the front room. My daddy was cutting her hair off. He went round bald head and said she did that to him. "I'm dat man's strength and he too fool to know it. I'm his blood."

Suddenly there I sat. I saw that I was my mama. All us Black women are somebody mama. Somebody strength even when they too fool to know it. I was rocking and tired. Tired niggers telling me how hard it is. Tired being so soft with them, so hard with the world. Tired standing stone-eyed dry. Tired crying. Tired giving my love away. Tired being raped. Tired talking. Tired being silent in the face of some obviously false shit.

"Nigger, pleeze!" Rabbit and I stood face to face at the leaving station, my packed bags standing between us, a sentinel of my seriousness to resolve this conflict or book up. I wasn't going for the okee-doke no more.

"Alright, we've been slaves together. Together. Not just you, but both us. And the hurt to your manhood ain't no worse than what I feel. But doing the crazy don't change nothing.

"We don't need to be hurting nobody. But Rabbit, you be coming home everyday now from that slaughterhouse smiling and whistling. You like that job.

"And it don't never get us no where. Don't even get to own the slaughterhouse." Rabbit hadn't said nothing. I wasn't screaming or nothing, just stone calmly for real.

Now a crowd had gathered and it was all men and they were all looking at me strange. Laughing at me. Telling me to can it. Telling me to stop thinking. To stop stopping Rabbit from doing all his weird shit. To let the man be a man.

At that moment I heard the long moan of the train whistle blowing. I told the conductor, "But being a man ain't got nothing to do with being the way most men be. Rabbit don't understand that although we might have to kill to survive, killing is no way to live."

"Joyce, watch me do this. Watch the white man die."

Rabbit put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Everytime his head came off, he'd put it back on again. But blood was coming out of the little holes. And he was laughing. "Joyce, watch me save us." Ka-bamn. Blood and bone.

"Rabbit, Rabbit!" I was shaking him. "Stop!"

When I woke up screaming, he held me close. "Hey, baby, come on. Come on. It's alright. I'm here. It's cool. Joyce."

I was shaking, not with fright but rage. He pressed close to me trying to be protective. "You must have had a bad dream, a nightmare or something."

"I dreamed that I could not stop you from killing."

He looked at me.

"But either we'll be strong together, or I'll be strong alone..."

"Joyce, baby, what're you talking...?"

Outside, it was already beginning to be morning.

posted 2 November 2007

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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update 10 February 2012




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